By Gavin Menu
There was a time last fall when the Pierson girls basketball team was shaping up to be a state championship contender. Sophomore Kendall Miller, a 6-foot-2-inch forward with Division I potential, was a Lady Whaler along with Chastin Giles, another transfer student who had joined a solid core of talent already in Sag Harbor.
Giles remains at point guard for the 7-4 Lady Whalers, but the chips fell differently for Miller, who never found a comfort zone at Pierson and instead transferred to Long Island Lutheran, a national basketball powerhouse in Brookville, where she is thriving.
“It’s a high level of competition,” said Miller, whose family lives in Sagaponack. “We play the hardest schedule in the country because we’re an independent school and we can make our own schedule. This year I think we play more of the top 25 teams in the country than any other team in the country. I like it because I have to work for and earn everything. It all starts in practice, and just by playing with my teammates on a daily basis I improve as a player.”
Miller’s family, including her three brothers, moved to the East End when she was in seventh grade. She attended Our Lady of the Hamptons in Southampton for middle school, but as it became clear that Miller was a natural basketball talent — like her mother, Leslie, who played in college at the University of Pennsylvania — she transferred to St. Anthony’s for her freshman year.
The commute was a grind so the family decided to give Pierson a try for her sophomore season. Miller enrolled last fall, and there was immediate buzz about the approaching basketball season. But Miller was never able to settle in at Pierson, so when LuHi coach Rich Slater expressed interest in having her attend his private school, the decision to transfer was made that much easier.
“She wasn’t really fitting in there, and she wasn’t really happy,” Leslie Miller said about her daughter, who is only 15. “It was more of a social decision than anything else. The people were very nice and welcoming to her with basketball. It was more of a comfort level thing. She felt like a fish out of water.”
Miller seems to be much more at home at LuHi, where she has been both a starter and a reserve off the bench for what is routinely one of the top 20 teams in America. Playing in the final of the Title XI Classic in Washington, D.C., on December 28, LuHi knocked off the number-four team in the country, St. Mary’s of California, 60-51. Miller started and scored 10 points to complement Celeste Taylor, one of the top players in the Northeast who has committed to play next season at the University of Texas.
“Pierson’s schedule wasn’t nearly as tough as LuHi’s, but it’s not just that,” Miller said. “I like being challenged and the intense environment pushes me to get better. It’s a different tempo and level of play then most schools. Our practices at LuHi are tough. Every day I’m gaining more experience at a higher level of play, which will help me develop as a player.”
When Miller is not playing during the school year, she competes with the Philadelphia Belles, an AAU team based in New Jersey. That, her mother said, is where most college recruiting takes place, which is why the family first thought it would be OK to play at Pierson, a tiny Class C school at the end of Long Island.
“The decision to go to Pierson, if you have the Belles, was you don’t need to have the LuHi’s of this world,” she explained. “At Pierson she might have been a leading-scorer type, but not now, and that’s okay. She’s going to learn some skills that she wouldn’t have had.
“By going to LuHi, she’s swimming in a bigger pond, but it’s probably going to be to her benefit,” she added. “We don’t look at the box scores. We look at how she’s developing as a player.”